The Eloquent Carpet by Bahram Beyzai is the third episode of Persian Carpet (2008) exploring the motif of Waq Waq Tree (Wakwak Tree) in Persian carpet through Shahnameh.
The movie begins with a quotation from the filmmaker
A Rare, woven painting, Hanged and used as a mat long before. It originates from an amazing tree, Shah-Nameh has called it the “Speaking-Tree”. Its archaic name is Vaque (or rather Vagh). It’s the ancient Goddess of Speech!
The Eloquent Carpet begins with a face of Khorshid Khanoum (Female Sun is popular motif in Persian art depicting a round face woman with an arch-like unibrow over languished eyes). Next, camera shows a series of still shots of different illustrations of heroic figures and battles in Shahnameh on a large carpet.
In the following sequence, while the camera is tilting down on a Persian Miniature of Eskandar (Alexander the Great) contemplates the Talking Tree, a female voice (Mozhdeh Shamsai) narrates the same story from Shahnameh. In this part (Sekandar Sees the Speaking Tree), Ferdowsi writes the story of Alexander and his encounter with the strange speaking tree,
“Victorious king, there is a marvel here, a tree that has two separate trunks together, one of which is female and the other male, and these splendid tree limbs can speak. At night the female trunk becomes sweet smelling and speaks, and when the daylight comes, the male speaks.”
Ferdowsi (Shahnameh: The Epic of the Kings)
As the narrative goes on, we see various Persian carpets with “speaking tree” elements in panning, titling and close-ups.
In the next scene, the camera shows a woman, wearing a nomadic colorful dress, from behind weaving carpet on a medium size vertical carpet loom while we hear a series of indistinguishable words, like whispering prayers. What comes next are the series of common animal images on Persian carpet accompanied with their natural sound. The animals are animated in the process of creation. Although we see them in still fixed close-ups, they are alive. Once again we hear the female narrator reciting Persian verses prophesying the death of Sekandar (Alexander). As she speaks, we hear thunderbolts accompanied by rotation of fully-made carpets.
Do not puff yourself up with greed; why torment your soul in this way? … You have seen many things that no man ever saw, but now it’s time to draw rein…Death will come soon: you’ll die. In a strange land, with strangers standing by. The stars and crown and throne and worldly glory, are sated with Sekandar and his story.
Ferdowsi (Shahnameh: The Epic of the Kings)
The eloquent tree episode ends with series of tilting up on Persian carpets. Last but not least, the Persian miniature of Eskandar (Alexander the Great) contemplates the Talking Tree is shown as the final shot.
The Eloquent Carpet or Speaking Carpet by Bahram Beyzai, as always, takes a historical mythological perspective. One of the recurrent and crucial element in world mythology is a “Tree”. We all heard about the story of Adam and Eve and the Tree of knowledge from holy books. As a mythologist, however, Beyzai dips into ancient strange eloquent tree way before emergence of Islam in the Middle East. A unisex speaking tree with the power of prophesy, an oracle in figure of a tree . One that warns Alexander, the Great, and he proudly paid no heed. Accordingly, Alexander story finds a way into Persian Literature. Take Nizami’s Eskandar-Nameh or The Romance of Alexander the Great as a shining example. And the eloquent tree appears as one of the important features of Persian Carpet. So, Bahram Beyzai once more explores and shows the roots of Persian art in Persian history and mythology, despite Islamization of Iran.
The desert road led to a city, and Sekandar was relieved when he heard human voices there. The whole area was one of gardens and fine buildings and was a place to delight any man. The city’s noblemen welcomed him, calling out greetings and showering him with gold and jewels. “It is wonderful that you have come to visit us,” they said. “No army has ever entered this town, and no one in it has ever heard the name of ‘king.’ Now that you have come our souls are yours, and may you live with bodily health and spiritual serenity.” Sekandar was pleased by their welcome and rested from the journey across the desert. He said to them, “What is there here that’s astonishing, that should be inquired into?” A guide said to him, “Victorious king, there is a marvel here, a tree that has two separate trunks together, one of which is female and the other male, and these splendid tree limbs can speak. At night the female trunk becomes sweet smelling and speaks, and when the daylight comes, the male speaks.” Sekandar and his Greek cavalry, with the nobles of the town gathered around, listened and said, “When is it you say that the tree speaks in a loud voice?” The translator replied, “A little after day has disappeared one of the trunks begins to speak, and a lucky man will hear its voice; in the dark night the female speaks, and its leaves then smell like musk.”
Sekandar answered, “When we go beyond the tree, what wonders are there on the other side?” The reply was, “When you pass the tree there is little argument about which way to take, as there is no place beyond there; guides say it is the world’s end. A dark desert lies ahead of you, but no man is so weary of his own soul as to go there. None of us have ever seen or heard that there are any animals there, or that birds fly there.” Sekandar and his troops went forward, and when they came near the speaking tree the ground throbbed with heat and the soil there was covered with the pelts of wild beasts. He asked his guide what the pelts were, and who it was that had skinned so many animals in this way. The man answered, “The tree has many worshippers, and when they come here to worship, they feed on the flesh of wild animals.”
When the sun reached its zenith Sekandar heard a voice above him, coming from the leaves of the tree; it was a voice to strike terror and foreboding in a man. He was afraid and said to the interpreter, “You are wise and mean well, tell me what the leaves are saying, which makes my heart dissolve within me.” “O king, favored by fortune, the leaves say, ‘However much Sekandar wanders in the world, he has already seen his share of blessings: when he has reigned for fourteen years, he must quit the royal throne.’” At the guide’s words Sekandar’s heart filled with pain, and he wept bitterly. He was sad and silent then, speaking to no one, until midnight. Then the leaves of the other trunk began to speak, and Sekandar again asked the interpreter what they said. He replied, “The female tree says, ‘Do not puff yourself up with greed; why torment your soul in this way? Greed makes you wander the wide world, harass mankind, and kill kings. But you are not long for this earth now; do not darken and deaden your days like this.’” Then the king said to the interpreter, “Pure of heart and noble as you are, ask them one question: Will this fateful day come in Greece; will my mother see me alive again, before someone covers my face in death?”
The speaking tree replied, “Few days remain; You must prepare your final baggage train. Neither your mother, nor your family, Nor the veiled women of your land will see / Your face again. Death will come soon: you’ll die / In a strange land, with strangers standing by. The stars and crown and throne and worldly glory / Are sated with Sekandar and his story.”
Are sated with Sekandar and his story.” Sekandar left the tree, his heart wounded as if by a sword. When he returned to his camp, his chieftains went into the town to collect the gifts from the town’s nobility. Among these was a cuirass that shone like the waters of the Nile and was as huge as an elephant skin: it had two long tusks attached to it and was so heavy it was hard to lift. There was other armor, as well as fine brocade, a hundred golden eggs each weighing sixty man, and a rhinoceros made of gold and jewels. Sekandar accepted the gifts and led off his army, weeping bitter tears as he went.
The 3D Carpet by Rakhshan Banietemad is the second episode of Persian Carpet (2008) seeking the mastermind behind the 3D carpet based on Shah Mosque portal. The movie begins with a quotation from the filmmaker
Carpet, Art, Iran, Carpet is the art of Iranians.
A Grandiose Claim
On an answering machine a man suggests the director, Rakhshan Banietemad, to make her short film about an unprecedented 3D carpet designed by Mr. Ahmadi. The filmmaker invites him to an interview in Tehran to know ins and outs of this masterpiece. This seventeen-year-old boy claims that he has come up with the 3D carpet pattern based on the entrance of Shah Mosque, in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan. Showing the different pictures of completed carpet on laptop, Mr. Ahmadi is explaining the invention of carpet loom, pattern and procedure of its completion.
In order to verify his claim, Banietemad asks Mr. Heshmati, a carpet expert, to question him more about the carpet. Initially, he is surprised to see the pictures because he knows nearly all carpet weavers and dealers in Isfahan, but he has never heard about this 3D carpet. In a dialogue, she seeks the reason behind his quest,
Banietemad: Why did you decide to make this carpet, since you have never done any carpet designing before?
Mr. Ahmadi: (Smoking) I have rarely designed a carpet, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t know it. I am an ambitious person.
A New Claim from Isfahan
Mr. Ahmadi invites her to Isfahan to see the carpet with her own eyes. The voice over narrator, the director herself, informs us that she receives another phone call from Isfahan which changes the plan. The female voice says
Mrs. Banietemad, there seems to be a problem regarding your short film project. The real designer his carpet is my father, Mr. Akbar Zarrinnaghse who live in Isfahan.
A female voice on answering machine
As the camera shows the view of si-o-se-pol Bridge in Isfahan, the filmmaker tells us that she couldn’t find the name of Mr. Ahamadi in any of her research. Next, at Mr. Zarrinnaqshe painting institute, Banietemad asks him how he designs the carpet. He replies,
This pattern, my knowledge about this kind of painting, particularly Shah mosque portal and its interior, could have outlined with computer. But, I did it according on its old style in Safavid Time, imaging then once the portal of Shah Mosque is completed, they have asked for the exact carpet plan. I can’t say anything about the carpet, because I haven’t seen it complete yet.
The Mastermind Behind the 3D Carpet
The narrator continues that he doesn’t know Mr. Ahamdi either and the mastermind behind this carpet is only Mr. Omrani, not anyone else. To see him, they drive to Dehno village in Isfahan. At his house, she asks the reason behind this carpet weaving from him which he answers,
The honest answer is that I don’t know. Do you know why? We have a wisdom, an imagination, and a memory. The imagination fools the wisdom. While the wisdom says it is impossible, the imagination says go ahead, who says it is possible.
In addition to his husband comment, Mrs. Omrani says, “It takes four years to weave this carpet with the help of 14 weavers including me. We weaved the bottom blue tiles three times, each takes nearly five hours to do. But, he shows up saying it doesn’t match exactly with the real blue tiles of the mosque”. Banietemad asks Mr. Omrani to watch Mr. Ahmadi’s claim on a video cassette. He tells that he has heard the voice of man, but never seen him. At first, he is surprised, but he bursts into tears as to see him claiming the invention of this 3D carpet. Mr. Omrani has told about this carpet to several people in Carpet exhibitions eagerly.
In order to prove his claim, he brings out the 3D carpet out of the basement to show it an open space to the film crew. Mr. Omrani set a meeting with Mr. Ahmadi, but he never shows up, in addition to turn off his mobile phone.
I wish there would be a place where art students, architects, sculptures, university professors just visit this carpet. Show it in western countries, Europeans and America. The carpet belongs to Iran.
Mr. Omrani’s Wish
Mr. Ahmadi’s absent leaves his grandiose claim vague and ambiguous for the director. She convinces herself that the creation of this 3D carpet was the dream of that smart boy. The 3D carpet of Shah Mosque reruns to basement in hope of a show exhibition or a buyer. For the last time, she tries to contact Mr. Ahmadi , but his phone is off.
Rakhshan Banietemad Perspective
In the second episode of Persian Carpet (2008), Rakhshan Banietemad sets off on a quest to discover the genius behind the Shah Mosque 3D Carpet. In fact, she is putting forward the idea of plagiarism in hand-made carpet industry in Iran. Her journey allows us to see the fake carpet weaver and the genuine one. The humble originator has showed his creative art in several places. In place of gaining admiration, he remains unknown in his home, whereas the imitators and plagiarizers brazenly brag about their craftsmanship and ingenuity. The Shah Mosque 3D Carpet has been kept in the owner’s basement for nearly two years and at the end of the film returns to basement again. The mystery of creator is solved; however, the carpet, a masterpiece to be looked at, goes back to shadows in hope of true admirer or carpet collector.
Nomads Carpet by Behrouz Afkhami is the first episode of Persian Carpet (2008) depicting Qashqai Nomads Carpet, Gabbeh in Iran. The movie begins with a quotation from the filmmaker,
Persian Carpet, a world of nuances, full of imagination…repeating trees, streams and blossoms…A utopia taken from Iranian spirit
Nomads Carpet episode begins with the group dancing of Qashqai Nomad in Zagros Mountains where women in multi-color hand-made dresses moving up and down colorful handkerchief.
With the soft bell’s tinkle, a female voice-over narrator (Marjan Shirmohammadi) begins telling the story of Nomads Carpet known as Gabbeh by introducing the biggest nomads carpet producer and exporter in Iran: Gholamreza Zollanvari. A self-made businessman who has been working in Iran carpet for nearly 60 years. The narrator tells us in brief how his tough journey to Kamfiruz, in Shiraz, in his childhood serves as a starting point for his long, successful rewarding career. The camera shows him getting out of SUV car and his greeting with the locals. While he was offering a cup of tea sitting in the black nomadic tent, the narrator recounts his life-changing tale,
He was sent to bring two pieces of Persian rugs in freezing winter of Kamfiruz by order of his father. But, the bitter snow of engulfed him for almost a week.
Gholamreza Zollanvari is one of the richest businessman in Iran carpet industry. He is famous for introducing and distributing Gabbeh to the world. Starting with small business, he has now developed into a carpet tycoon, promoting nomad carpet and supporting and improving local economies of Qashqai Tribes in Iran.
Carpet Weaving and Economics
The voice over narrator continues that over 30,000 people are now weaving carpet for him and thousands are working in other sections of carpet industry such as Cotton spinning, Dye house, margining etc. The camera, then, shows the close-up of female carpet weavers exposed on the carpet looms they are working on, as the Persian folklore music is playing on. Next, it focuses on male workers in the post-weaving procedure.
The camera cuts into a pretty large carpet shop, full of piles of carpets overlapping each other. In the series of right and left pans showing heaps of carpet, the narrator complains about the fake Chinese, Pakistani, and Indian carpet in international bazaar.
With emergence of unauthentic carpet makes the struggle harder for authentic nomad carpet sellers in world market. The fake carpet might be cheaper, but the vivifying childlike spirit of nomads generates diversity in colors and creativity in patterns. Despite all the problems, Nomads carpet is still the most popular carpets in the world. The film ends with series of camera’s zoom outing different Persian carpet patterns.
In the First Carpet episode of Persian Carpet (2008), Behrouz Afkhami focuses on the nomads carpet and its current marketing situation. In fact, he depicts the origin and the procedure of weaving carpet within the Qashqai Nomads, but never deals with the elements featuring a typical nomad carpet. His perspective, I think, is simple and cursory when it comes to one of the nomadic handicrafts which, according to his claim, embodies “a world of nuances” and “Iranian spirit”.
Here One Does Not Die tells a story of private solider who must watch oil pipes on Iran-Iraq borderline alone for a month.
The film opens with the longshot of horseshoe road with two men on a buzzing motorcycle noise heading to the watch post. While telling a film story, Ghasem (Reza Behbudi) take Ashkan (Houman Seyyedi) to a one-room shelter. Ghasem is worried about his wife’ mental health and thinks the baby heals the pain. The observation post is in a remote mountainous area empty of any humans but some wolves. Ashkan has to keep his eyes open for smugglers who hit the pipe at night.
One fine day, he sees a girl, Rojin, down below on the green covered flat land carrying stuff to a stony house. Quickly gets on his motorcycle, Ashkan approaches her and asks about her business there. The girl (Bahar Katozi) replies that she is just living in here. As a part of duty, he reports about her presence in the area to Ghasem.
Rojan (a Kurdish name means “shining”) keeps visiting Ashkan day and night to bring some food and have small chitchat. One day Ashkan tries to pay her a visit to her home, but Rojin rebuffs him angrily and asks him to leave. Ashkan becomes suspicious that she might be in cahoots with smugglers. His worry grows when she calls him by his first name over having some food the next day. Ashkan never remembers telling his name to Rojin. Slowly and slowly Ashkan’s state of mind begins to break.
He loses the date and day of the week. On an occasion when
Ghasem is back to bring some food and water for him, Ghasem tells that his wife
needs to see a doctor because he saw her playing with the dolls. However, Ashkan refuses his idea and advises
him not to do.
The doctors will bother her. They will do something that she forgets everything…I have been with them [Doctors]……I have seen something and somebodies that seemingly did not exist. Only I see them.
One night he sees some men near the oil pipe through the binoculars.
He reports to Ghasem and when Ghasem checks the situation he couldn’t find any
evidence. Smoking heavily day in and day out, Ashkan cannot trust his mind anymore.
Through a series of flashback, we see
Ashkan on a wheelchair of what appears to be an asylum. To stay focused and get
rids of voices he hears, he tries to remember his events of his life by talking
loudly to himself. However, it appears futile because Rojin keeps coming back
to his loading. In a daring act, after seeing a man near the oil line, he gets
into the house of Rojin with his finger on the trigger. Rojin begs him to leave
the house immediately before they show up. As he was asking about the men, a
door opens and a man enters. Ashkan pulls the trigger and shoots the man dead.
Together, they dig a hole and bury the corpse. In an internal monologue, we
hear that Ashkan tells himself that “This woman is unreal. I should not get
close to women.
Waking up next day on his bed, he sees the dead man he buried smoking cigarette alive before his eyes, only injured in left ear. He warns him not meddle with his business because he has no intention of killing a private solider. After giving a pocket of cigarette, he tries to threaten Ashkan by choking him with his hands. He then leaves quickly. That night Ashkan saw a group of men show up at Rojin house and carry a dead body wrapped in rug. He picks a shovel and quickly runs to the burial place of dead man. To his surprise, there was no corpse. He goes on the verge of collapse and passes out on open space when Ghasem comes announcing that his watch is over. While carrying Ashkan on his back, he begins to narrate a story;
There was a fast sleeper boy who sleeps when the situation comes up. Once he slept at 20:00 and woke up at 12:00 noon tomorrow. He said that he went boating. On the other day, he slept for two entire days. He went boating again. But, one night we he fell asleep, instead of boating, the water pulled him down. He went down like a stone. A week passed. Three months passed. Ten years passed. The boy realized that he is asleep. He tried to scream, but he couldn’t. One day while his mother was playing with his hair, he saw that his boy was staring at her with open eyes. He woke up, but he felt like a boy who is trapped in the body of a grown-up man.
Ghasem carries Ashkan on his back to the motorcycle. Here One
Does Not Die ends with the same horseshoe road with two of them on the motorcycle.
Kondori’s Comment on Film
Hossein Kondori in his news conference at Fajr Film Festival said that at the begging the name of the film was “Zero Point Border”, but later changed into “Here One Does Not Die”. He introduced his film as a psychic drama and believed that from the second half of the film “an analytical point of view dominates the film” which make the audience to think more about the film. Regarding the cinematography of the film, Kondori states that Here One Does Not Die is the first film in Iran which was shot with Blackmagic URSA camera. He added that from the begging he had Houman Seyyedi as the main role, but he faced difficulty to convince him for the role. However, at the end, he talked him into it.
Here One Does Not Die Film Review
Hossein Kondori, a young Iranian filmmaker, goes against the mainstream cinema of Iran to make a film on a psychic private. His narrative of a mentally ill person brings to mind films like Beautiful Mind where the protagonist sees unreal fictional characters. Unlike the John Nash, the protagonist is a soldier dealing with the unknown intruding woman who occupies and unbalances his soul and mind.
Since that the director never shares Ashkan’s past experience with the audience and from the exchanging words between the characters, particularly Ashkan’s internal monologue, it is likely that Ashkan’s problem originates from the “presence of woman” of any kind in his life. As long as he is within male presence, he is sound and sensible. But, as soon as a Rojin appears his mind goes numb. In a revealing internal monologue, he points out that he should not get close to this woman, Rojin.
To support my perspective, I would like to pay attention to the Ghasem’s wife. His wife is playing with dolls like a kid and he thinks that making her pregnant will exorcise her illness. In fact, we never hear Ghasem’s wife side of story nor Rojin one. We see the world from the two male characters. In Here One Does Not Die, what we see is a male-centered world where women are either trouble-maker like Rojin or mentally ill like Ghasem’s wife.
Here One Does Not Die Film Location
The setting of the film is on Iran-Iraq borderline in Kurdish area of Iran. However, the film was shot in Rineh and its surrounding area near Mount. Damavand.
Gojastak Abalish or Gizistag Abalis is an apologetic treatise between Adurfarnbag, a Zoroastrian and a heretical Zandiq, Abalish. Abalis puts seven questions to Adurfarnbag about Zoroastrian doctrine which he answered truthfully and satisfactorily. Each answer puts a gentle smile on the face of Islamic ruler, Al-Ma’mun, who was an ardent supporter of science and knowledge.
Who is Abalish?
The eponymous antagonist of the text is Abolish or Abalis, a dweller in Istakhr, Fars Province. The name, according to scholars, is not Persian. However, as the title says, he is “accursed” or Gojastak. Gojastak, has previously used for Ahriman or evil and Alexander, The Great. The latter is called Gojastak because he burnt holy books of Zoroastrianism when attacking Persian in 330 B.C.
One day Abalish, formerly a follower of Mazdeism, stepped into a fire temple in Istkahr in order to practice Baj or Waj, whispering prayer before and after a meal. But, he was wan not treated respectably and forced to leave the holy place. Feeling humiliated, he traveled to Baghdad to ask the Caliph for judgment.
Who is Adurfarnbag?
On the other hand, Adurfarnbag or Azarfarnabag is the
protagonist; defender of Zoroastrianism. Adurfarnbag, the son of Farroxzadan or
Farrokzadan, is the first author of Zoroastrian compilation, the Dēnkard,
Encyclopedia of Mazdaism. He is remembered and praised as leader of Mazdaism in
9th century because of his thorough knowledge of theology and
religion in books such as Shkand-gumanig Vizar, Dadestan-i Denig, Zand-i
Vohuman Yasht and Shayest Na-Shayest.
Gojastak Abalish Debate Topic
Like other Pahlavi texts, Gizistag Abalis’s topic is related to religion. Abalish targets some of the pillars of Zoroastrian beliefs such as dualism and its implications (Fire and Water, Punishment and reward); reason to worship fire which is weak in essence and needs care and ritual and custom (use of cattle urine, gomez, for ritual purification and use of the sacred girdle (kustig).
Initiation ceremony (navjote) showing the adoption of the white undervest (sudreh) and the chord (kusti)
Dispute in the Caliph’s Court
The debate between Azarfarnabag and Abolish took place in
court of Al-Ma’mun (786 –833). Probably the time of debate goes back to late
period of his reign, after the death of his astute Persian Vizir, Al-Fadl ibn
Sahl in Sarakhs, 818. The reason is that before this period he was busy quelling
civil unrest in Islamic land. According to the text, the debate took place
before Al-Ma’mun and other religious leaders; Islamic, Christian and Jewish.
Other Versions of Story
Talking about the history is a tricky thing. While scholars agreed upon the event of Gojastak Abalish, Abol Ma’li, a theologian in 11th century, narrates a similar debate story where Islamic Jurists convinced the heresy of the Zoroastrian. As a result, Al-Ma’mun issued the order to kill him.
Al-Ma’mun’s enthusiasm for religious debate was also cited by the great Arab Historian, Al-Masudi, in Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems. Knowing the fact that the dominant discourse of then was Islamic, it was not surprising and almost probable that the account has undergone radical alteration. One of the most famous debate in Shiite world has happened between the eighth Imam of Twelver Shiites, Imam Reza and other religious leaders. The story was narrated by Ibn Babawayh, the most important Shiite scholar in 10th century. In his account, Imam Reza debates with high ranking leaders of Exilarch, Catholicos, Sabians, followers of Zabuur and arch-mobed of Zoroastrianism and wins. We are not sure,but this version could be the Islamized version of Gojastak Abalish.
Gojastak Abalish Translations
Gojastak Abalish was originally written in Pahlavi, middle Persian language. Homi F. Chacha, an Indian Parsee translated the book into English with the title of “Gajastak Abâlish” in 1936. In addition, Prods Oktor Skjaervo also translated the book into English.
Arda Viraf is a dream journey of Zoroastrian religious man into Heaven and Hell in Sassanid Era. Arda Viraf is father of spiritual journey in the world.
Who is Arda Viraf?
The antagonist of the book is called Arda Viraf whose name is open to debate. The first part of his name “Arda” has otherworldly connotation, however some defines it “trustful or righteous”. The same thing goes for the second part, too. On the one hand, some believe that his name is Arda Wiraz as once mentioned in Avesta; and on the other hand, some say his name is Viraz according to Pazand and Sanskrit language. To make it more complex, the anonymous writer introduces him as Veh Shabur with seven sisters/ wives who is among the top ranking Mobeds (Zoroastrian religious men is called Mobed). That’s all said in the text. There is no historical record of such a man in ancient Persian history. It might partly disappeared because of many rewriting and altering after the fall of Sassanid Empire.
Author and Time of Writing
Arda Viraf is written by an anonymous author. The date of writing the text is unsettled. But, historical names in the book cause the scholars to estimate the date of the writing the book to Sassanid Empire (224 to 651). The author begins his book with introducing Zartosht, Zoroaster, and 300 years of purity and faith toward Zoroastrianism. Then the evil-doer Alexander, the Roman, invaded Persian (330 BC) and burnt the holy books of Avesta and Zand, written on cow-skins with gold ink safe kept in Stakhar Papakan (Cube of Zoroaster).
Cube of Zoroaster, Naqsh-e Rostam
Alexander’s death brought confusion to Iranshahr and “religions of many kinds, and different fashions of belief, and skepticism, and various codes of law were promulgated in the world”. According to late books written on Persian History, we now know that this “confusion” period refer to Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 AD) who was famous for religious tolerance. It was Adurbad Maraspandan, the famous minister of Shapur II (309-379 CE) who brought the glory of Zoroastrianism back to Iran again. Another historical name mentioned in Arda Viraf book is Veh Shapur, the famous Mobed in the time of Khosrow I (531-579 CE). These names enhance the chance fixing the date of writing to Sassanid Era.
According to this Middle Persian
text, Arda Viraf as chosen out of seven other righteous men. He embarks on this
journey wholeheartedly despite his wives’ disapproval. After drinking a mixture
of wine, mang (Indian Cannabis), and Haoma (Divine plant in Zoroastrianism),
his soul went from the body to Chinvat Bridge and come back after seven days
and nights. While his soul was roaming around, his seven sisters reciting
Avesta sitting on Persian Carpet next to ever-burning Fire. After coming back
from afterlife, he asked for food and wine. Then he began telling his vision of
heaven and hell.
Vision of Heaven and Hell
Arda Viraf vision of heaven and hell is similar to otherworldly visions of monotheistic religion. In aromatic heaven, he can “taste immortality and pleasure eternally’. The heaven is a home to devotees of Zoroaster and his book. There are three categories of heaven dwellers, Star, Moon and Sun. The author names “Gayomard (Keyumars), Zartosht, Kai-Vishtasp, Frashoshtar, Jamasp, and other well-doers and leaders of the religion” as well.
Paradise in Arda Viraf
The wanderer again walks on Chinvat Bridge to enter hell where a dreadful river runs beneath it. In this part, the author lists the sins and punishments of evil-doers in a grotesque way. Here are some most frequent sins in hell: disrespect to four elements known as Akhshig, adultery, cruelty to animals, False judgement, sorcery, backbiting and telling lies. It is important to note the anti-feminism perspective of author in the book which could be in Abrahamic religion as well.
Persian Divine Comedy
Dante completed his Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy) in 1320 in Italy. Divine Comedy, one of masterpiece of world literature revolve around the vision of afterlife in Christianity. Dante takes a journey to Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise by help of great ancient Greek poet, Virgil. Dante’s belief in Holy Trinity made him divide the afterlife world into three section; while duality in Zoroastrianism made Arda Viraf see the afterlife in two sections; heaven and hell. Both books represent the established religion of their given time by the religious authorities; Mobed Mobadan in Zoroastrianism and Pope in Christianity.
One can say that Arda Viraf is a forerunner of spiritual journey to after world in world literature which Divine Comedy is the par excellence.
Arda Viraf and Mi’raj
Arda Viraf Journey and Mi’raj journey by Islamic Prophet Muhammad share certain similarities. First, both travelers are introduced as chosen person and prophet in holy texts. Muhammad, like Arda Viraf, goes on night journey, both physical and spiritual, on the back of a white winged beastlike horse called Buraq to heaven. His journey to heaven is called Mi’raj, literally means “ascending”.
Ascent of Muhammad to Heaven from the Khamseh of Nizami
Muhammad is accompanied by Archangel Gabriel, while Arda Viraf has two companies; Sraosha or Srosh the pious and Adar the angel. Muhammad meets Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus in his journey, however, the Zoroastrian messenger never meet Zoroaster. In both of these divine voyage, the visitors narrate their vision of heaven and hell to confirm the common belief of afterlife. Whereas the Zoroastrian version was marginalized throughout the history, the Islamic account of night journey, nearly 400 years after Arda Viraf, were praised lavishly in literature and painting, particularly Persian Miniature. The shining example of Mi’raj illustration is in Khamseh of Nizami in 16th century.
Adaptation: Ardaviraf Report
Arda Viraf Report is a play by Bahram Beyzai. In his adaption, Arda Viraf meets the pantheon of characters from Persian history and mythology.
Desert survival trip in Abuzeydabad was exciting and challenging at the same time. Desert survival trip is an experience one should experience once in a life.
Meeting Point : Valiasr Square
In the early morning of a snowy day in Tehran, around 4:30, I headed to Valiasr Square to join the group waiting for me. I showed up late, because of the snow. Twenty-five nature lovers wanted to experience the harsh situation in desert. But, we didn’t know what is waiting for us in this desert survival trip!
Knot Tying Practice
After a short introduction, the leader of the team, Nima Parsa, and his two female assistants briefed us on your upcoming survival adventure.
Right after that, they began the training. The first lesson was rope knots. Knot tying is a one of the essential skill that any outdoor enthusiast should know and learn. Here are some knot ties practiced on the road.
After a short stop for breakfast near Qom, we resumed our tip to Abuzeydabad.
Siazgeh Desert Camp
Siazgeh Desert Camp in Abuzeydabad, a village south of Kashan was our destination. Once we got there, Nima divided us into four groups. Each has six members.
While standing there, he took the head of each group to the other side of the sand dunes to show them where to camp. After returning, we realized that our camp was on crest, the top of a sand dune, where biting wind blows toward us, whereas the other groups were down the slip face. Safe and sound from any blow.
Making Fire Persians were fire worshipers nearly 2500 years ago and they few of them are still living in Iran. Fire was one of the four sacred elements in Zoroastrianism. As a follower of our ancestors in ancient Persia, learning to make fire is must. Since we are not in a jungle to use wood, we used survival magnesium flint firesteel fire steel starter to build fire.
Survival Magnesium Flint fire-steel Fire Steel Starter
Besides flint starter, Nima taught us how to make fire with a typical electronic battery.
Digging Our Own Grave
Sleeping in the tent was a heinous crime in the eye of Nima. He had informed us earlier that no one is allowed to sleep in the tents.
You sleep in a grave you dig on your own!
I knew there would be no comfy hotel rooms with warm bath and soft pillow; however, I did not know I should sleep in a grave! I thought I would sleep in a gave only once, when I am dead. But, I was wrong. Nima explained us how to dig a grave and following instructions. We had two hours to dig the graves.
Within the two hours, we dug four graves in a form of Chahartaq, the fire temple architecture in ancient Persia.
In order to survive the coldness of the night, a survival blanket was put at the bottom of the grave and another one was covering the top. The last element was fire. A burning fire in the middle would warm the graves; since the survival blankets are heat-reflective thin plastic sheeting that would let us survive the desert survival trip.
Night Patrolling in Desert
After quick dinner, around 10 p.m. Nima blew a whistle to gather us for the night patrolling. At first, we learnt how to find the North Star in the sky in case of getting lost without a compass at night.
Next we received some information about vegetation and importance of plants in desert. You might come across a green or dried up plant on the golden dunes. Both of have deep roots down under and neither of them are dead. Vegetation roots such as haloxylon help soil fixation and strength, therefore improving soil resistance against erosion. If you pick the plants, sooner or later, the sand dune will fly over to your town.
An important note to remember, rooting up plants in desert lead to grave consequence. Make sure to carry your own firewood in desert trip in Iran.
Cutting or burning haloxylon is a crime in Iran.
We went to graves for sleeping at midnight. Two out of six were night watch. My watch was between 2 to 4 a.m. But, I couldn’t go to sleep. So, I sat next to fire with other night watches. The wind began to blow stronger than before roaring under the starry night. Fire that was supposed to last until morning was burning faster and faster. Running out of firewood in pitch black night was challenging and worrisome. It was cold, but the wind blows made it bone-freezing. I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I stayed awake until the sunrise. Although I felt really cold, I managed my body heat with survival blanket and the perseverance. I have never looking forward toward sun all my life, because I am a night owl. But, for the first time in my life when I saw the sun rays at horizon, I felt hope and survival.
Compass and Map
After a rough night, we were back to training. Knowing how to use compass is another essential part of nature-based training. We had five Lensatic compasses or Military compasses belonging to US Military force. First, we got familiar different types of compasses. Next was different parts of it. And last but not least, how to use it.
Right after it, map reading began. Reading map got easier after knowing compass. Yet, it has it’s own tricks.
Before noon, participants practiced knot ties, compass and map reading in pairs and at noon Nima had us examined.
Back to Tehran
Not all of us passed the exams, two failed. Surviving in desert is not an easy task. It needs reading and practice. Survival Desert Trip was the most challenging nature trip I have ever experienced up to now. It made me to learn basic activities which are now done with modern facilities. But, we all know that a rainy day might come, so we must be ready.
Koker Hitchhiking was a road trip to Abbas Kiarostami’s Koker trilogy film location. Koker hitchhiking was a beginning of film tourism in Iran.
Hitchhiking to Koker should have been done earlier, when I was studying at Guilan University, Rasht. However, back then I was so immersed in pages of books that I failed to notice the life is outside of words of writers. Compared to then, now I have every reasons to visit Koker. Anyway, I made up my mind to go on the Koker hitchhiking on my own to discover the world of Abbas Kiarostami, one of the greatest filmmakers in Iran. In the end, I didn’t make it alone. Yeganeh and Helia joined me to visit the film location of Abbas Kiarostami in Koker Village.
Hitchhiking Meeting Place: Golshahr Metro Station
Koker is located in Rostamabad, Rasht, Guilan province. Our starting point was Tehran. So, we should first get ourselves to the west of Tehran. As a green person, I took Tehran Metro system and got myself to Golshahr Metro Station. After waiting for thirty minutes, Yeganeh showed up. While we were waiting for Helia, we grabbed a bite there. A chicken sandwich. It wasn’t bad. Helia showed up a little late. Timing is very important factor in Hitchhiking trips. Anyway, we got outside the metro station and walked a few minutes to get to the Tehran – Qavzin freeway.
Meeting Two Cool Hikers
Finding a car or truck for hitchhiking becomes a challenge since removal of toll booths at Karaj. We stopped with our placard on our hands written “Rasht” for about 15 minutes. At weekends, Thursday and Friday, Rasht gets quite large number of travelers which 90% are family members. A car stopped for us. There were two young men in their late twenties. I preferred a car with a single driver, because I was with two girls. After all, I was responsible for their safety. I said no.
The car moved, but again pulled over ten meters a head of us. The two young men got off and moved toward me. After greeting formally, he said we are driving to Ardabil to climb up Mount. Sabalan and I said we are heading to Koker village in Rostamabad. I talked to Yeganeh and Helia and they agreed to join them for our direct ride for Koker hitchhiking. Although I agreed to get on the car, before I saw their hiking equipment I was still in doubt. We put our stuff in the bumper and sat on the back seats. Three of us.
Hitchhiking from Golshahr to Rostamabad: Through the Alborz
Sahand and Ali weren’t alone. They were five. The other three were in another car behind us. Golshahr was sunny, but the sky was getting grey. We began to share our travel experience with Ali and Sahand. They had some Hitchhiking experience toward south of Iran, too.
After passing Qazvin, we reached Manjil, the city of wind. The sky was cloudy. In Rudbar, it started to rain. It is typical in northern part of Iran to rain. But, I never expected that to come. Anyway we enjoyed the road, as one enjoys road trip in Abbas Kiarostami movies, while we listened to some rock, rap and pop music.
A Big Mistake: forgetting the tent
After saying goodbye, we walked for five minutes to get to the road to Rostamabad. We were quite happy that our Koker hitchhiking was almost done. Koker wasn’t far from us. It was rainy. So, I decided to cover my backpack. That was then I realized I left the tent in the trunk. Shitttttttttttttt! We had no place to stay for the night. We were supposed to put up a tent in Koker. I gave my business card to Sahand, but I didn’t receive his number. What the hell! All of the sudden, Helia told me I got his Instagram page. She began to text him on and on so that he would notice the notification. Hopefully, he read the texts and gave me a call.
We stood under a tree at the beginning of the Rostamabad road not to get wet for about forty minutes while it was raining cats and dogs. Ali and Sahand were kind enough to return back in the heavy rain to bring back the tent. FYI, we are still in touch with each other through Instagram. Technology is not a bad thing, after all. Lesson learnt: always check your stuff before getting of the car after hitchhiking.
Rostamabad: Seize the Day!
We continued the Koker hitchhiking by a leisurely walk in a light shower. It cheered us up. We crossed the long bridge while enjoying the soothing sound of flowing water and green pretty scenery. As a huge fan of Omar Khayyam, I seized every single moment to its full.
As we were strolling in the rain talking our plan for tonight, a car stopped and gave us a ride out of kindness to center of Rostamabad. He asked us what we were doing here, particularly with big backpacks. I told him we were in Rostamabad because of Abbas Kiarostami’s film location. “We want to visit Koker”. The guy surprisingly said “There is not much to see. It is all ruins”. I replied enthusiastically, “That is exactly why we are here”. He suggested us to put up the tent next to Imam Zadeh Taher because of its safety. We thanked him and head to groceries to buy something for the dinner.
A Genuine Surprise
I love fruits. Somehow, I can say I am a fruitarian, somehow. I bought some fruits and three bottles of water. We needed some bread to make sandwiches. The scent of hot bread was in the air. I followed the scent and reached a bakery, Barbari bread. I asked for three Barbari bread. The scent was intoxicating. The baker asked what brought us here and I said” We want to visit Koker.” He said, “You are filmmakers?”. I said, “No. We love Kiarostami. He makes us to come here.” He said,” My son played in that movie.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What!!! Your son played in the movie”, I asked while I was in total shock. He said, “I am the father of Mohammad Reza Parvaneh.”
I was so thrilled that I screamed for Helia and Yeganeh to
break the news. They got excited too. “Would you like to see him? He is up
there. In the taxi agency. He is a diver”, he continued. That was the final
blow! We thanked him and walked toward the taxi agency. He was there. I
recognized him by the look. Yes, he was Mohammad Reza Parvaneh. Holy Smoke! I
approached him and introduced myself. He answered me reluctantly. I asked for
his phone number if it were possible to guide us around in Koker. He looked at
us distrustfully. I didn’t like his look. He was looking at us as if we were
stupid. I got his number and left. Helia had the same feeling. Anyway, we
headed to Imam Zadeh Taher for the night.
Camping in Imam Zadeh Taher, Shamam
Imam Zadeh Taher is located in Shamam, a village between Koker and Poshteh. Imam Zadeh Taher is a holy shrine. It was clear that we cannot sleep in the shrine. It is a no no. However, we knew that when there is an Imam Zadeh, there is a toilet. That was enough for us. So, we headed to the Imam Zadeh on foot. Luckily, a car stopped and asked our destination. He said, “Hop in. We take you there.” There were three of them, mom, dad and a son.
The woman who was outgoing, out of kind of mind reading I guess, said “I know you are here for Kiarostami”. On one hand, we were shocked and on the other hand we were happy that someone understood our motive.
She said “I really wanted to play in the movie, but Kiarostami didn’t pick me.Back then, I was seven or eight. However, on general, we are happy he made his movie in here.”
The appreciation of a mother for an artistic work was touching for me. Although she hadn’t had the chance to play a part in the Koker Trilogy, she was wise enough to see the bigger picture. A benefit for the entire community. What an attitude! They dropped us next to Imam Zadeh Taher and kindly asked us to join them for the dinner. Unfortunately, we had to put it down because we have our own plan. We put up our camp under a big tree. Had our dinner and slept in hope of wonderful day tomorrow in Koker.
Let’s Explore Koker
The day has come. Waiting is sweet when you know your try is
paying off. We had our breakfast next to our tent under the shade. Next, packed
our tent and stuff. Ready to explore Abbas Kiarostami’s film location. Our
first visiting place was the school you can see in the opening scene of Where
Is the Friend’s Home.
Helia took out a copy of Lessons with Kiarostami by Paul Cronin in Farsi and read some parts of it.
The school was in ruins. Doors and windows are gone. Yet, if you listen carefully you could hear the boys’ noise inside
Calling the Actor, Mohammad Reza Parvaneh
Although I knew the Koker Trilogy by heart, I suggested Yeganeh and Helia to call Mohammad Reza Parvaneh to guide us around. They agreed with me. So, I called him to give us a ride in Koker. After all, he played in the films and he knew the locations better than us.
When he saw me, I had my Abbas Kiarostami T-shirt on. He was surprised to see me like that. I could read it on his face. Helia’s book also showed that we weren’t’ tourists. We were Kiarostami’s aficionados.
Zigzag Path, Koker Trilogy
He first took us to the famous zigzag path from Koker to Poshteh. The zigzag path has actually become Kiarostami’s signature in Koker Trilogy. The zigzag path is a a man-made path that made by order of Kiarostami.
Solo Tree of Abbas Kiarostami
Solo Tree of Abbas Kiarostami is at top of the zigzag path showed in Where Is the Friend’s Home and Through the Olive Trees.
However, the solo tree, Tak Derakht, in Koker, is no more solo anymore. After three decades, some other tress were also grown round the area.
And Life Goes On
in And Life Goes On, a filmmaker played by Farhad Kheradmand and his son goes on a journey to Koker after the devastating earthquake to find the boys played in Where Is the Friend’s Home. While driving he met the actor who played the role of grandfather of Ahmad in the film. He invites him to his house and offers a bowl of water to his son.
Through the Olive Trees
Through the Olive Trees is the elaboration of one specific scene in And Life Goes On where Hossein talked about his wedding exactly one day after the earthquake. This is the house where Hossein asks Tahereh to marry him.
After finishing our pilgrimage to Koker, we hitchhiked back to Tehran. Koker is already famous for film lovers and filmmakers around the world. It can turn into Kiarostami Tourism like Harry Potter Tourism in London. One should think about revitalizing the entire village through tourism because it is the only way to bring back this ruins into the live city like then.
Mouteh Wildlife Refuge Trip in January 2020 was an educational and instructive trip to visit Goitered gazelles and Urials also known as the arkars or shapo.
First Trip in January 2020
Watching wildlife was a big dream of mine. Although I had seen animals and birds in forest and nature, it wasn’t intentional. It was by chance. And if I had the chance to see one, I couldn’t recognize it. I just knew the big animals such as lion, leopard, bear and etc. which is hard to see for novice like me. Therefore, I decided to visit one of the wildlife refuge in Isfahan with a professional tour guide and group of friend of mine in order to come out of this animal-ignorance-world-of-mine as my first trip experience in the new year 2020.
Why Mouteh Wildlife Refuge?
Mouteh wildlife refuge was our target place for two reasons. First, it is close to Tehran. It takes nearly 4 hours to get to Mouteh. Second, it is the habitat of Goitered gazelles or Persian gazelles in Iran.
Let’s Hit the Road
The meeting place was Valiasr Square. We depart at 13:00 on Thursday January 2, 2020 from Tehran to Mouteh. We stuck in weekends traffic of Tehran for an hour. There is always traffic at weekends in Tehran. Shoot!
Introducing oneself on tour is a must. But, we did it in our own style; with laughter and lyrics. We had a way to spice up our Mouteh wildlife refuge trip.
Lunch Time at Arshia Rest Complex
We took Tehran-Qom Freeway, an only highway toward the south of Iran. Since we hadn’t had lunch, we stop at one of the rest complex to grab something. The complex has clean bathrooms including both Asian and Western Toilets. It has two large restaurants; a fast food and a Persian one. Click on the picture below to see the location on google map.
Amo Ghodrat Ecolodge
We resumed our trip toward Qom, the most religious city of Iran. Drive southwest to Delijan. Pass Nimvar. Drive further south to Golpayegan to get to Bomgardi Amo Ghodrat (Uncle Ghodrat Ecolodge), a cozy place to stay for a night.
Amo Ghodrat welcomed us with open arms. He is friendly and sweet. We put our stuff in the rooms. And despite the cold weather outside, we decided to spend some time together in a small alcove covered up with plastic PVC curtain. We smoked Hookah and drank tea. Ali, Masoud and Fatemeh made dinner for us while we were telling jokes and listen to music.
We got up at 6 a.m. in the morning on Friday with a shocking death news of Qasem Soleimani , the Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It was unbelievable, but it was verified by Iran national news.
Timareh or Teymare Petroglyph
After breakfast, butter and Jams, and one fried egg, we head to Timareh or Teymare Petroglyph site. There are more than 20,000 rock paintings in this area which dating back to 40,000 years ago. You could see pictures of animals and humans on the rocks.
Mouteh Wildlife Refuge Ranger Base
Mr. Seliyari, the one of the top forest ranger in Iran, leaded our group to the Mouteh station building where two local rangers were waiting for us with SUV vehicles.
We came across a dead corpse of an eagle en route to base building. It seemed that the electric wire was the cause of death. The death of any animal is always a sad news to me (Sad).
Watching Goitered Gazelles in Mouteh
We parted into two groups and got on the SUVs to visit the goitered gazelles. It was cold, so we covered our heads not to catch cold.
We stopped all of the sudden. We haven’t gone too far. Mr. Seliyari got out of the car and picked up something in the middle of small bushes. It was the bloody horn of a gazelle who was recently eaten by its number one predator in the area, grey wolves.
I had no idea how many Persian gazelles I could see. But, the maximum number I had in my mind was 20 or something. But, I was wrong. What we saw there was beyond my expectation. We saw hundreds of goitered gazelles. We were so excited to watch running gazelles in such different large herds. They were running like a flash. A typical gazelle can run 97 km/h, more than lion speed 80 km/h and less than Cheetah 120 80 km/h.
Watching Urials in Mouteh
Our next target was Urials aka arkars or shapo, a subspecies group of the wild sheep in central Asia. We said goodbye to the Mouteh Park Rangers and head to mountainous area. The mountain foothills are the best place to find and see Urials.
Watching Urials is not easy. They usually keep 500 meter distance from any unknown moving objects. Only through binoculars we could see them. It was satisfying for me from far distance. I needed to see them from closer range. In order to see them better, we took steps quietly closer and closer.
After the explanation about physical features of Urials, we noiselessly climbed up the mountain and hid behind a rock. Now we were 100 meter away from them.
Being silence was mandatory. We could see them now with naked eyes. However, with binoculars it was way better.
We climbed down the hill and walked back toward minibus.
Ali, Javad and Masoud were kind enough to cook lunch for us. It was delicious.
After the watch, we got on the minibus and drove back to Tehran. The sun was setting and it was getting dark, but our hearts were enlightened with beauty of nature and awareness toward environment. Mouteh Wildlife Refuge Trip is over at night with happy smile.